Cultivating Self Compassion: I am Enough

woman looking at sunset
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There is something forming in my conscious that sounds familiar, but has felt foreign to me until recently. It’s a seed that is growing in size, full and impenetrable. It’s resting on the collective conscious of “what is” and longing for the wisdom and strength of what has left us. My spirit gravitates toward a space that is shared between what I have absorbed and what I have chased. This new landscape is difficult to articulate, I only know it is defined by my very own view of the world, and, I trust it.

I’ve spend many years in anguish. I didn’t feel I was enough. I was never smart enough, kind enough, talented enough, good enough, organized enough, wealthy enough, etc. There was never enough of me to feel “enough”. Every endeavor was designed to be a means to an end. It was as if every activity I engaged in had to have a value assigned to it. If I relaxed completely, letting go of counting the “inventory” of successes and failures”, I’d feel anxiety and shame for letting down my guard and not fulfilling my duty. I’ve always been driven, a perfectionist, determined to excel at the activities in which I invested time and energy. One can see quickly where this is headed. Over time, I grew deeply disappointed, depressed, and anxious.

I wanted more for my life. I expected more from people. I even expected more from the world. I was downright devastated when I awakened from the dream where I had expected those around me to be kind, honest, and authentic. I did have a few people in my life who were healthy individuals. However, I had spent most of my time in conflict with those in my life who were unable or unwilling to change. I allowed these people to suck up my time, energy, emotions, and thoughts. It was my mistake. I’m still unraveling and unpacking the last few years where the trauma of my past became intertwined with the trauma of certain loved ones. Was I indeed trying to save myself by holding on too tightly to their trauma? Again, this elusive seed that is growing within me tells me that it’s all about to change. I’m often giddy and joyful, nearly feeling free. It’s a foreign feeling as I sit in the space of so many colliding and conflicting emotions, but having the ability to process without impulsively acting. This is new for me, and I’m sure I will backslide a bit, but I like this feeling a lot. I’m going to work to maintain this.

I had a session a week ago where I was talking to my therapist about the distance I have purposely created between me and a loved one to “keep me safe” currently. This person is a relative and so it might be difficult to completely remain disengaged permanently. It is someone who has hurt me quite a bit and her lifestyle continues to concern me. My pattern has often been to confront when I am concerned. This has not benefited me as the person I am confronting does not want to change. My therapist, was pushing me a bit, stating that I could be engaged on some level if “I accepted her where she was at right now”. I quickly shared reasons why I could not do so. They were good reasons. It’s very hard engaging with this person and our relationship is quite fractured. Still yet, this “push” from my therapist of acceptance bloomed inside of me. I cannot quite articulate how so, I can only say that it was another window into a different way of existing outside the “cage” I have been inside of for years.

And so, all of this has been filling me with curiosity and even joy. It’s as if I took the pliers  and gently took off one of the steel bars of my cage.

Tonight, I sat making Christmas ornaments for my loved ones. It was an imperfect process and I realized some things were a tad off. In the past, that would have bothered me a great deal. I let it go this time. I said to myself, “I don’t have to be perfect”. I noticed the tension rising: “I should redo it, it’s not perfect”. It dawned on me how most people probably would’t even notice what I saw as “imperfect”. When did my world become so calculated and precise? That isn’t the world! I instinctively knew it was not! I know the trauma in my past created a pattern of perfectionism. I smiled at myself at the thought of finally being free of this pattern. It dawned on me rather quickly that because I had placed such high expectations on myself, I extended the same to loved ones. And often if people were unable to meet them, it was a reflection that I was “not enough”. Somehow, their inability to meet my expectations was my failure. I believe this is why I have fought so hard, at times, with these individuals. Truthfully, I should have “accepted them where they were at” and retained my dignity by not fighting or pleading for their involvement in my life. It was this realization, that I’ve had before, that has now cultivated a greater awareness. It’s as if another layer has nearly been revealed and I’m eagerly awaiting for the next chapter of my life to begin!

I believe it’s a “way of living” that I have missed out on due to trauma and my continual entrapment within it. I know it starts with me and knowing that I am “enough”. I am inherently worthy, we all are. Operating from that optic alone frees me from a lot of desperate behaviors where I was relying on others to affirm my self worth. Whoops! Not a great idea as people are often totally oblivious to your struggle and have their own full plates. And then, there is the awareness that I no longer need to listen to the voices of others either defining me or telling me who I am or not. I am accepting all of me, the imperfections, the mistakes, the mess, and the comeback. I can see all the complexity and  I embrace it. I don’t have to explain it to others. I am at a point now where despite all the messes, I’m pretty proud and impressed at the way I’ve cleaned them all up! I am learning to live more in the moment and I enjoy using all my senses as I lose myself in the experience of life.

The complexity of life, the sadness and the joy, are held simultaneously in one space in my heart. I am more level as a result and joy is finding me in many places. I’m sure I will be able to express the growing light inside much better in time. I’m glad it’s been uncovered and it is glowing brightly. It was there all along, but had been dimmed by many years where I was searching. Just thought I would try and share tonight as I continue on my journey of healing from the pain and confusion of trauma. Love and light!

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“Morning Has Broken”: When Suffering Becomes a Blessing

Morning Has Broken
~Cat Stevens
Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world
Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass
Mine is the sunlight
Mine is the morningBorn of the one light Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise ev’ry morning
God’s recreation of the new day
Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world.

beach woman sunrise silhouette
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WOW! Have you ever had one of those moments of clarity where you feel so centered and deeply rooted that it genuinely surprises you? Suddenly you’ve arrived at the summit, a little winded and a bit fatigued, but completely joyful as you fall into the present moment, free and fully satiated. Determined to savor this slice of bliss in its entirety, you scan the horizon, using all senses, desiring to retain as much of the landscape as humanly possible. These are the moments that define us, the ones we work and wait for, and the ones we reminisce about, often sharing the stories multiple times throughout our lives.
My milestone came to me late this evening in an ordinary way. I wasn’t climbing a mountain, giving birth, or competing in a race. I was actually drying off from a hot lavender soak in my small tub. LOL. It was at the end of another uneventful evening. Both my friend and I have been hacking away with colds that we got right before Thanksgiving. As I often do, I had spent time earlier loving on my pup, Gracie, and throwing her green, squeaky toy down the hall for her to chase. It didn’t seem like anything was brewing. It was a very uneventful, gray day with rain on and off and a high wind warning in effect. I only went out once all day to take my pup to the dog park as it was dismal outside. The Fall and Winter months in the Northwest can be trying for those who suffer with depression, it gets dark early and rains often.
So, yes! Back to my milestone! It was late and I had taken a bath and was drying off. And that’s when it hit me, like a ton of bricks. The type of bricks that you can use with mortar to build an intricate, yet solid, foundation. Yes! My building blocks that I have been unknowingly waiting on forever, have finally arrived. No one ever shared with me that things might just snap into focus one day to reassure me that I not only had everything needed for me to rebuild, but I’ve also been granted the time to do so.  And, if they had told me, they surely didn’t tell me that one of my defining moments, would be after a day of literally no consequence, after having taking a hot bath. By the way, I’ve always loved a hot bath. It seems fitting, in an odd, but lovely way.
I had spent time earlier today lamenting to others about how I had recently been denied my SSDI and SSI benefits. I’ve been advised by two of my providers to hold off on going back to work until I complete a program that will hopefully help me develop better skills to cope with the stress of work and relationships. I’ve not been working for nearly a year and a half due to increased episodes of mania and depression and a weakened immune system where I was getting sick too often. However, I am becoming increasingly restless to get well. I am hopeful one day to be well enough to work again and contribute to society, helping others heal. I have always been in positions where I have helped others, often in recreation programming serving seniors or disabled adults. It was a meaningful job and I miss it. Living without money and being dependent on others is also very difficult when you have been relatively independent for most of your life, often living alone. It’s been a huge transition.
And so, as I was drying off and searching for my glasses, and then, it hit me. I suddenly recalled how many times over the past several years my spirit pleaded for rest. “Lord, I am weary”. Let me rest.
The details of my struggle are too great to mention here. I’ve been suffering as a result of running from pain and as a natural consequence to experiencing some unfortunate stressful events that continued to keep me hooked in a downward spiral until I literally loss the ability to work.
I knew in an instant, standing there with bathroom towel surrounding me, that I had been granted everything I needed to heal. I had prayed to heal for years. When you are living with chronic pain and anxiety, healing becomes a priority. I would say to myself: “If I only had the time to take off of work to truly get well and get the help I need”. Often these prayers were uttered while laying on wrinkled, warm sheets from tossing and turning throughout the night. The prayers were said when I had locked myself in the bathroom at work, pacing and trying yoga poses, to try and stop or prevent a panic attack. The prayers were uttered when I lost jobs and I was sobbing through broken tears saying again: “If I only had the time to get well”. The prayers were uttered when I was alone and broken and in physical pain.
I never felt that I had time to relax, I was always running from one job to the next. I was running to save an unsalvageable relationship with a Narcissist. All the desperate endeavors were exhausting and led me farther away from myself and into suffering. I prayed, read devotionals, sobbed, and hurt both physically and emotionally. I just did not know a way out yet.
The last couple of weeks I’ve been sulking, unhappy. I wanted to have more money. I’ve been too broke to go out and buy myself a coffee. My attention was gently drawn to the fact that I have two people helping me currently, my Mom and my ex-Spouse. I was reminded of my warm home with all my belongings. I already have two, not just one, Christmas trees up for the holidays. I actually have no money in savings, but I have people who are here for me and they are willing to help me as much as they can. My housing is provided for as I live with my ex-spouse currently and my mother pays for my car payment. My ex rents and we just recently moved into a two bedroom where we have more space. I have more than many and less than many. I actually have everything I need at the moment.
As I was doing this inventory in my head while drying off with my towel, I acknowledged that I really am ok. This is when it hit me like “a ton of bricks” that my prayers had been answered. I knew instantly that I had been granted the time and the help to truly rebuild my life. And now, I also possess the knowledge and know-how to not just build a flimsy structure, this time it would be an ornate castle of sorts where every stone placed will have been passed through my hand. It would be my design.
If I had not been through the struggle, I am certain now that I may not have understood the importance of rebuilding my life with each brick being bound by the mortar of “self love”. In the suffering, I was able to dismantle the cage and unravel the parts of me that needed inspection. The suffering had convinced me that change was definitely necessary. I remained frozen for awhile when the archaic structure fell to the ground.
And so, I am standing at the summit tonight! I’m looking forward to rebuilding so that I can reach even greater heights. But, for now, I will sit here and relish in the moment of receiving a true gift, time. I have been given exactly what my spirited needs. I have the space, the support, and the time to complete a treatment program and to do what is needed to be in a healthier state both mentally and physically. I was too busy surveying the loss to celebrate the victory. And now, I know better.

Grateful to Have Enough

chicken close up dish food
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It’s Thanksgiving. It’s raining heavily outside. Blue Christmas light strands adorn the parameter of my apartment front door. I’ve carefully placed four blinking snowflakes outside on the front lawn, behind them is my front window encircled by more blue lights. My Christmas tree stands behind the window sparkling with white lights. It’s cheerful and it warms me inside. It’s enough, for right now. Enough.

I’m sitting in the dark with both Christmas trees lit, listening to Christmas music, alone. My friend is taking a nap. We’re in the middle of preparing our Thanksgiving feast and we have a bit of time to rest while the turkey cooks. My dog is here with me in the living room, napping quietly on her small bed. She looks peaceful.

Earlier, we walked the dog in the rain. I felt nostalgic as I took my time walking through the dense evergreen forest. It’s Thanksgiving in the Great Northwest. The pavement was wet with broken leaves. Something settled within me. Acknowledging that I’ve been running most of my life, something felt a bit different as I scanned the forest floor that surrounded me. “Maybe, I’ll finally reach peace in this lifetime yet”. I knew for this to happen, I needed to accept the ambiguity and embrace the uncertainty of it all.

This Thanksgiving I am unemployed, living with my ex-spouse who happens to be my best friend. My family relations have been strained and I rarely have contact with any of my family members except my mother. I’ve been very angry and hurt, but the heaviness is beginning to dissipate as I continue to cultivate compassion not only for myself, but for others. I’m grateful to be learning a lot. It’s enough, for now. Enough.

I truly have enough, even though I have very little. I’ve been too sick to work and I currently have my mother and ex-spouse helping me. They both know my story completely. They know how hard I tried for many years to work and how it ended up destabilizing me and lowering my immune system. I’d give anything to have the ability to work. But, I am being blessed with the opportunity to get the help I need and to learn the skills required to recover from the symptoms of PTSD that caged me. I have an excellent therapist and I’m growing and learning. I detest being this vulnerable, but I have helped many people when I worked and now it’s time for me to accept the help that I need. The help I am receiving is enough, for now. Enough.

I have a very small support system, but it is mighty. It’s easy to compare yourself to others and feel inadequate, saying “I should have more friends, like so & so”… But, for now, I have a small circle and it is enough. Enough.

I’m retraining myself to acknowledge my blessings and to repeatedly say, I have enough. Often, I feel separate from the materialistic machine that consumes most people’s endeavors. I’m longing to develop a life that perpetually acknowledges that I do actually have enough. I don’t need to become preoccupied with the foolish obsession of always desiring more.

The only thing I truly desire more of is love. I find that I’m often misplacing my desire for love with other more concrete things that do not provide the same benefit.

Tonight, I’m going to sit down with my best friend and my dog, as we feast on a meal that would serve 10-12 people! It’s enough! It’s going to be a beautiful experience of flavor and aroma. We’ll be having Mojitos with our main meal and then hot-buttered rum cider with our pumpkin pie. Even though I am relatively poor at the moment due to my disability (others are paying my housing and bills), I will feel like a queen when I sit down to this incredible feast. There will be Christmas lights & music for ambience and I’m hoping to savor every morsel. Because, at this moment, it is enough. It’s probably always been enough, sadly, I didn’t always see that it was.

There is so much struggle and suffering in the world. I don’t want to deny anyone of that. Life is full of pain and uncertainty. I want to relax within it, no longer avoiding or fighting the reality that exists. I’ve been grieving quite a few losses in my lifetime. And now, I’m ready to move my consciousness into another realm where I am truly awake and aware, absorbing the best of each moment, embracing the joy and the mystery of life. I’ll take my pain and wear it around me like a coat that has weathered a few storms, and it will keep me warm and dry. I don’t feel it’s best to deny grief or pain, it’s an individual process. Still yet, I’m excited and ready to let go and lose myself in the authenticity of each experience.

I’m grateful today. I’m breathing life into my longing for love and recognizing how I truly do have enough in my life.

I’m grateful for the seeds I am planting and the connections I am making with others here on WordPress, Twitter, and on Facebook. I’m putting one foot in front of the other and I’m getting the treatment I need to heal. I don’t know what’s next, but I’m optimistic about it. I thank you all for taking the time to read about my journey. I’ve been given some excellent advice  & support here and that means a lot. All of this continually restores my faith and belief that people are truly caring and want to help. I sincerely hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving (for those of you in America)! I’ve got to get back to preparing the feast!! Happy Thanksgiving!

 

It’s Nearly Time to Take Flight: Abandoning Your Cage

nature animal park birds
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Long ago, a bold, little bird was stuffed into a small, steel cage. There she sat, on her wooden swing, occasionally belting out a sweet, soulful song. She was careful not to sing too loudly.

Behind the steel bars, she felt safe. The steel structure became a way of life for the little bird. Inside the cramped cage, she was often lonely, but the distance surrounding her kept her boundless energy and enthusiasm somewhat confined and at a tolerable level to those who were easily annoyed by the sometimes boisterous bird.

Time passed and the little bird grew weary. The cage was becoming a hindrance and was getting in the way of connecting with the other birds. The little bird had to chirp loudly to get the attention of the others and often she felt invisible and unloved. What once made her feel safe was now making her feel distant and sad. The little bird often was angry and tense without truly knowing why. She stopped singing and swinging and sat in her small, steel cage brooding over what to do. This went on for quite some time.

Then the rain began. It was slow and steady rain at first and the little bird was able to avoid getting too wet. But, this was temporary as it one day really began to pour, raining “cats and dogs”. The wind picked up and the rain was blown sideways, completely soaking the little bird. And the poor little bird had no idea what to do. So, she sat in the soaking rain, shivering, waiting for someone to come save her. People often came, looking on, perhaps giving her some morsels to eat, but they were just as confused as she was and had their own storms to weather. So the little bird continued to sit in the rain, softly singing a ballad and perpetually wondering what she could do.

The storms raged on night and day. The little bird thought she might die and even longed to on certain days. She felt lost. She was isolated and had become embittered and even somewhat mean, at times. The cage that she fled to for protection was now endangering her life and song. She had stopped singing entirely and it took everything she could muster just to get through the day and survive.

Still yet, the little bird continued to question. She never stopped trying to understand why she was so alone and what to do about it. Was this really her destination? Why? She was persistent and was determined to find an answer.

After years of being isolated and alone, she was studying herself one day and noticed the steel bars surrounding her. She had seen them before, right? Perhaps so, but since she felt she needed them maybe she overlooked them. She started to take a very hard look at the steel bars surrounding her and spent time acknowledging the role they have played in her life. She began to realize that the bars had become “part of her”. She quickly implored: “Are these steel bars not separate from me?”. Instinctively, she knew the bars had held her back. But, she was frightened at the prospect of leaving them. Initially, she did not even know it was a possibility to leave!  She was scared and excited all at once at the discovery that the steel bars were separate from her and perhaps she could leave the small, steel cage! Time passed and these thoughts churned in her mind night and day as she tried to make sense of it all. What does it all mean?

And then one day, it happened. The little bird was swinging in her cage. She had started to belt out a few songs. The sunlight was illuminating the cage. She was studying her cage and her eyes landed on the door. It was ajar! Funny, the little bird thought: “I never noticed that!  How did I not notice that the door has been slightly open the entire time”? The little bird was curious and cautious all at once. Joy flooded her little being. She knew that she was nearly ready. She wasn’t sure what it would be like outside the cage, but she knew that, in time, she needed to abandon the cage to truly recover. There was a way out of the misery that had entrapped her for so long! Her time had come to be free, to soar effortlessly, free from the cage that had chained her.

Sometimes the answer that we long for means letting go of something we did not know we could release. We have to be extremely persistent like the little bird to find the answer. Years can pass and we can nearly give up. But, don’t! Be relentless in your pursuit to find the peace you deserve. It is yours to have. Keep going.

 

Cultivating Your Songbird: Letting Go to Love

IMG_4452I’m in a bit of a hole at the moment. I am again fighting change and dragging my feet, clinging to what needs to be released in my life to finally be free. I’m caught up in the confusing web of chaos and lies that has captured my time and attention for years. Lies that were told to me by others and lies I told myself in order to maintain the status quo and thus promote a false sense of security. I keep returning to this vacuous space where I once stood unaware that I was alone. I still occasionally employ the same old scripts that are in need of retiring. There have been times that I’m so overcome with grief that I’m desperate to return to the steel bars that caged me. I enter briefly into those dark and confining spaces only to realize that the chatter has silenced and I’ve actually been alone all along. It was all a mirage, a swinging mirror that was clanking against the steel cage, a distraction that resulted in hours of endless, mindless preoccupation. The cage was now empty and I was in full awareness of the solitude that shrouded my little song.

My first realization as I stood, alone, was the deafening silence surrounding me. It’s been my voice all along, chirping desperately into the empty spaces, echoing and bouncing off the stone walls, that has kept me tirelessly hooked and responding. In this new silence where I have all at once stopped singing, I hear nothing. I’m enveloped in soft and silent spaces that communicate vast solitude and begs for my somber, but awakened soul, to fill the empty spaces and soothe the rough edges that were created from fighting and flying solo for so long. It’s time drop the armor so that I can spread my wings of self discovery and visit the places that I have cut myself off from in my desperate attempts to get love from those in my life unwilling to give it.

I’ve stopped fighting and have began grieving the losses that I had truly never gained. Those longed for connections and I were never even in the same room together. It was the chatter of my own voice I had been wrestling with while the objects of my longing were only able to see my rage and hurt. My desire to connect and rebuild was foreign to them as they remained in their cage on their post, constructing their own soliloquy. The more I fought to connect with these individuals, the more alienated I became, until one day I woke up to the tune of silence. Determined to love myself, I discovered that I had finally freed myself from those who had no real desire to commune with me. This painful discovery was the beginning of my freedom from my cage, and was my first steps toward self-love.

I recently have been in the dance of wanting to connect again and have had those old urges to reach out. I realize that this is part of the grieving process and as much as I would like to speed through and be flying free, there is only so much I can do to hasten this difficult process. Sometimes, it means getting sucked in to old patterns of thoughts and behaviors and even potentially fighting once again for a connection that does not exist. Often, if I am truthful to myself, this connection never really existed.

I’ve been involved with people from family members to partners that were often too unhealthy to truly connect. I wanted the connection so desperately that I often brutally demanded it. Growing up with others who were often distant emotionally, has left me stunted and uncertain as to how to get my needs met in the relationship. I was never allowed to express anger openly growing up as a child and certain family members were unable to connect in intimate and safe ways. I’ve always longed for what I instinctively knew existed, but I became horribly ineffective at obtaining it from others in my life. I stayed in sick relationships for too long, ruthlessly insisting that we connect and grow together. These ineffective tactics only served to alienate me and make me feel depressed and, at times, even suicidal. I felt unlovable and unworthy because the few people that I desperately wanted to receive love from, displayed over and over in actions and words, that they were not concerned with my welfare, one time even expressing to me: “I don’t even think about you”.

For years, I was determined to get my needs met from the few people in my life that haphazardly remained, often involving themselves when and only if they needed something from me. I knew I was being used, at times, but I accepted their excuses and even made excuses for their inability to connect with me so that I too could receive love. I was desperate to get the occasional crumbs and willingly remained engaged with these individuals in my life. I moved across the country for two people in my life and I was there for these individuals at times when their lives crashed and burned. At their lowest time, I was the one standing beside them, encouraging and supporting them. For one of these individuals, this meant helping her even bathe and cooking food for her and allowing her to stay at my home after she nearly died in the hospital to an illness related to her substance abuse. However, once she was back on her own two feet, she again began to distance herself, argue with me, and leave my home going back to her addiction. Over and over again, I was left by these two individuals who seemed to only need me or want to connect during times when they needed my help. I rarely said no, but over the last few years the chatter in my cage increased and I began to act in ugly and mean ways to desperately demand and insist they get the help needed to heal and thus, be able to connect with me and others. Obviously, this did not bode well and I ended up swinging in my little cage, alone, in the deafening silence.

The most difficult part of my journey was realizing that the connection never really truly existed in the first place. I was desiring an authentic and genuine connection. One that involved truth and honesty and reciprocation. Sadly, I learned over time that these two people I was hung up on in my life where not well enough to truly connect and they both broke my heart. I don’t feel that either of them are even connected to themselves and both often gain their love and adoration from a safe distance from those who care for them, but are not truly connected to them. There is a difference between loving someone from a distance and truly connecting to them. I learned that the walls they had built were too high and the communication received from me only served to overwhelm and confuse them.  I had to let go of both of them. I still love them, but remaining in a distant relationship where I was often used and abandoned only served to make me bitter and angry. Several times I have recently fallen, crashed, and burned, and neither one of these people even took the time to contact me and provide support, not even a brief phone call.

Both of these people in my life whom I loved dearly, were lessons to me. I learned a lot from loving two people that for whatever reason were unable to love me back. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from this difficult journey:

  1. Love thyself. This sounds pretty simple, right? But, there is so much tied into this tiny little phrase, that it is actually multi-layered and extremely complex at the same time!  I learned that once I stopped demanding love for myself, silence engulfed me. This was intolerable, at first, as I wanted to go back into safe spaces and become preoccupied by what had chained me. Why? Because that was more comfortable in the end. I realized though I would be right back into the painful cycle. This is when I realized what it truly means to: “Love Thyself”. it means to clear your plate of items and people that are not meant for your time and attention. Let them go, as hard as it may seem as doing so will allow you the space in your life to be filled with people and things that serve you. This is not being selfish. It is you “loving yourself” enough to direct your life so that you are not endlessly responding and engaging in things or with people that zap your energy and therefore diminish your true potential. You deserve people and things in your life that honor and respect you. When you get wrapped up with individuals that are not honoring you and are abusive or neglectful of your needs, it actually is a choice you are making to remain comfortable in old patterns and thoughts. Love yourself and free yourself from those patterns.
  2. Leaving sometimes means you are going to an unfamiliar place, it’s ok. My life is in major transition. I left an abusive relationship two years ago. I am distancing myself from certain family members because of addiction issues and my inability to help them. I am currently not working because my mental illness was exacerbated by all the change in my life. I am without money or a job and it is extremely stressful. I am completely unraveled and have absolutely no idea where my life will end up! I am living with someone currently as I had no money saved up and am going through the process of applying for SSDI. I also have chosen to not date because my life is in so much upheaval currently that I would not want to invite another person in to the chaos. It is a very scary and disorienting time for me. Because I spent so much time trying with people who did not try back, I am a bit isolated with less support than I would like. So, I know deep down that I am headed to a different place, both spiritually and physically. It is my responsibility to breathe life and beauty into all the spaces I let grow dark and damp.  Let in the light!!  I don’t know where I am going, but it will be somewhere and I am hopeful that loving myself and putting myself in the center will rearrange my life “furniture” in a beautiful and inspiring way. So, to anyone out there who is struggling and feels “knocked down” by what life has thrown you, BREATHE. It’s ok to not have all the answers at once. It will come. Just put yourself first and let go of anything weighting down your wings!
  3. Forgive yourself! This is a big one. I made some huge mistakes in my life. Oh man, the chaos that ensued. I was always one to “throw caution to the wind” and go with my gut feelings. I did not realize at the time that living so haphazardly was not an act of self care or love. My life blew up before me and became unmanageable really quickly. In the last half decade of my life, I became a raging mess. All the times I dropped everything for others, I was now left alone to deal with my chaos myself. I rescued others, but no one came to rescue me! I felt betrayed. I was mad and enraged and hated the world. I then became ugly as a result and made even more mistakes, hurting myself most of all. Breathe. It is a very difficult life lesson to learn, but when you don’t love yourself and put yourself as a priority, you are going to get hurt. For most of my mistakes, I really only had myself to blame. I was swinging madly in my cage, chattering and tweeting up a storm, belting out a dramatic melody. And, for the most part, I was alone. It’s important to embrace your innate humanness and forgive yourself. I’m actively involved in this very process and feel it is an important component of cultivating compassion for yourself and others. We can love more fully when we forgive.
  4. Have firm boundaries. I used to let everyone in to my life and I disclosed my life story to anyone who would listen. I was “an open book”. I’m learning that perhaps being so open and inviting is not the best practice. I want to believe everyone is kind and has my best interest, but life experiences has made me the wiser. This is hard for me because it goes against everything I learned growing up. I was taught to be giving and kind and to accept everyone!  And so, I am trying to have better boundaries and to “say no” when it regards something that I do not feel comfortable doing. This is a new landscape for me and it will take adjusting and trial and error. But, as I work on putting my life as the priority, I will say no more often to the people and things I really don’t want on my plate. 

And, so my little songbird is singing a different tune these days. It’s a tune of self discovery and self love. I believe we are here to learn and to love. Sometimes, I get discouraged because I am getting somewhat older and I wish I had learned these things earlier. I feel behind, like I must catch up. And then I feel perhaps it has all unraveled this away for a reason. No matter when you begin to sing a different tune it truly makes no difference. Belt it out and embrace it! This is your song to create and continually sing throughout your life. I hope it is full, with a joyful melody, layered with beautiful harmonies!

Silenced Stories of Our Struggle

 

black and white black and white depressed depression
Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

There is an unshared story that is told over and over to my tear-stained sheets on so many restless and sleepless nights. It’s a story that I feel others don’t want to hear. A story that is told in angry, broken phrases, and through desperate behaviors that has isolated me, at times, from those I love. This story is multi-layered and complex. There is so much exposition surrounding the plot, that themes go undiscovered and I wind up feeling frustrated, bewildered, and alone.
I’d like to share some of the re-occuring themes in the story of my life. So much of my story is touched by the mental illness I have struggled with for nearly three decades now. My illness does not define me, and yet, it has impacted nearly every area of my life. As with any major disease, mental illness deserves the respect and attention needed to aggressively pursue adequate treatment and support. Often due to it being highly stigmatized and misunderstood, many people dismiss and downplay the struggle. I’m writing to articulate, as best as I can, the untold struggle that surrounds mental illness. The following comes from my personal experiences living with a mental illness.

Common themes relating to my struggle with mental illness:
1. The struggle of identity, Is it the illness or me? Many disorders can cause mood fluctuations and perceptual distortions. When you are younger, you are continually developing your identity and learning about yourself. For those that struggle, you have an additional burden to bear during that process. If you cycle, like me, it can be difficult to separate two competing realities: one when stable and the other when in an episode of depression or mania.

It took me many years to recognize that my illness was not integrated into my identity. Often mania or deep depression derails me and various behaviors surface as a way to cope as effectively as possible. Things were further complicated by others in my life who responded harshly to various behaviors that would surface due to my illness. Because mental illness is often observed through behavior, others will attribute the symptoms of the illness as personality characteristics. How others perceive you is continually mirrored back to you and it can cause you to embrace your symptoms as your personality. It’s safe to say without having a mental illness that continually causes shifts in mood and perception, personality development occurs in a relatively normal fashion absent episodes that can color one’s perception of reality. That is not the case for many who struggle. Often, I have behaved in damaging ways and later realized I was symptomatic at the time. I later asked: “Was that really me?” I have concluded after years of struggling, that the essence of who I am exists absent my illness.

I am responsible for managing my illness as best as I can, but during times of decompensation I wish people would cut me some slack as it is not something I can control. The behavior that is displayed when episodic is not my personality, but a result of the symptoms of my disorder. Just as the expression of my illness is confusing for others, it is equally disorienting for me. There is a lot of unnecessary shame associated with episodically losing control of your perceptions and mood.
2. Dealing with continual lack of validation: When you have a visible illness or disability, people are more empathetic. The problem with having a silent and invisible illness is that people are not able to see the struggle so they downplay it. If there is one thing those suffering understand, it is the lack of others validating and offering support during the tough times you experience with your illness. I often wished that the mentally ill would be cheered on like those with physical disabilities. It would just feel nice to have others recognize how hard it is to accomplish certain things when you are experiencing an episode. It’s comical that some people feel having a mental illness is a ploy for attention or special treatment. Mental illness is still highly stigmatized and no one shops around for a mental health diagnosis to garner attention. It’s not an illness that attracts attention or support from others, in fact, it often pushes people away.  Having a mental illness can be isolating.
3. To disclose or not to disclose, that is the question: Those who suffer with a mental illness, are continually presented with multiple opportunities to disclose or conceal their diagnosis. Most of us struggling are aware that disclosing our illness can bring unfavorable outcomes. People often lack the sensitivity and awareness to handle our disclosure in a positive and supportive manner. Disclosing a mental illness in the workplace can be damaging, although sometimes is necessary to request accommodations during times of decompensation. Even close friends and family will often struggle as to how to support someone suffering during an episode. Those who have never struggled often unintentionally say the wrong thing when trying to be helpful. Holding it in and hiding a diagnosis can be difficult and exhausting as well. The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to surround myself with people that are understanding and supportive. It’s a true act of self-care.
4. Having a mental illness, often means grieving missed opportunities in life. Due to my illness, I decided not to have children. I have also missed opportunities to land promotions or take a better job because I was actively struggling with my illness. I did not feel I could manage the stress of learning and adjusting to a new position at the time. I also feel had I not been sick during my college years, I would have been able to pursue a more competitive field. There have chunks of my life where I lost time and opportunities due to being in the grips of a severe mental illness. Days lost to anxiety and rumination, unable to truly relax and enjoy life. I have spent time grieving what I lost as a result of being so sick. So many times, I have expressed my longing for freedom, security, and safety. My illness has taken a lot of my time and energy. I don’t feel those who do not struggle understand that grief is another layer of having a mental illness. Grief includes bargaining, depression, and anger and the outward expression of these things are sometimes what others are responding to instead of the illness itself. There are layers of frustration, hurt, and disappointment that must be resolved when you live with a severe and persistent mental illness.
5. Living with a mental illness, sometimes means not being able to “let go” or detach from it. I’ve had many heated arguments with friends and family over my inability to “let go” when in an episode. People who do not suffer will often make the mistake of insisting that you can easily turn on or off a mood or perception. I have explained that if that were the case, I would not have the diagnosis of a mental illness. If I could change my state of depression or mania when in an episode that easily, I most definitely would. Remaining in a mood state and obsessing or behaving erratically does absolutely nothing to benefit me. While I’m doing the best I can to manage a chemical imbalance in the brain, I don’t need the additional stress of others demanding me to “stop it” or “let it go”. That approach often escalates an already explosive situation. If I could change course immediately when in choppy waters, I would! There is already so much shame associated with the inability to control certain unwanted thoughts and behavior that receiving criticism during these times only adds fuel to the fire. It’s better to validate and reassure than to scold and abandon. The real space for creating lasting change is done during times of less intensity where coping techniques can be learned. Some disorders do not have a cure and learning to manage the symptoms is the best approach in the end. Enlisting supportive people in your life can sometimes make the greatest difference in your process of recovery.

6. Invalidation and insults abound in media regarding the stigma of mental illness. If you struggle, it’s difficult to not feel bombarded daily by others on social media, television, and surprisingly even in support groups. When you have a mental illness, you start to see all the negative slurs and insults that exists in social media relating to mental illness. Every time there is an episode of gun violence, thousands point their fingers and cast blame on the “mentally ill”, reinforcing the stereotype that the mentally ill are “dangerous, unpredictable, and scary”. This is damaging for many reasons, but one is that it discourages people from wanting to get help because they don’t want to be labeled as “crazy or dangerous”. It paints an inaccurate depiction of mental illness and denies the reality that most of the mentally ill are not dangerous, but are more likely to be a victim instead. Social media,and even support groups for people struggling with Bipolar disorder, are often full of negative remarks that depict people who suffer as “hell to live with, evil, abusive, etc.”. I find many of these comments disheartening and damaging to those living with the disorder. Abuse should never be tolerated, but those who have suffered with abuse would be better off gaining support from a secured site as it is insensitive to those living with the disorder.
I could probably think of more layers that intensify the symptoms of having a mental illness. It is a true struggle that no individual would ever ask for or desire. Often a mental illness will rob you of time, energy, and relationships. It is very devastating in the end.
I wrote this piece to provide a true depiction of the layers surrounding mental illness. I am an advocate for early and aggressive intervention and treatment for those suffering. I believe education and awareness of these issues will help those suffering feel less alienated as people will be more accepting and accommodating if they understand the struggle. I long for the time when the mentally ill are embraced in society and in the workplace. Those who are more severe will also hopefully be invested in and given the opportunity to work and engage in social events if they choose. I will continue to use my voice as a agent of change in a world that is lagging behind on issues concerning the mentally ill. There is a lot of work to be done!

Here I Am, Standing at the Horizon

woman wearing purple hooded jacket sitting on rock
Photo by Pete Johnson on Pexels.com

I’m looking out at the horizon. It appears untouched, uncertain, and foreign. I’m feeling a bit frozen. I know I cannot return to what I left as it is in ruins. I’ve seen too much to unsee it and go back. I have a keen awareness that I have finally left and am grappling with a strange, new reality that hasn’t come together yet, nor does it feel familiar in any way. My eyes scan the horizon and my heart if full of doubt and fear. I question my ability to navigate the terrain below.

I guess I’ll just hang here for awhile and stop frantically searching. Perhaps the goal is to give myself the time to grieve what I have lost and to let go of needless investigation of things that are outside of my control. It’s time to bring my focus on what can actually be accomplished today. Too much thought and worry often leads to fear and inaction and very little is accomplished when I am this way. Clinging to constant worry was one of my ineffective coping mechanisms that stemmed from trauma. Worrying has not only rendered itself useless, it has also damaged relationships and caused health problems. I am aware of this now, but have only recently began to acknowledge my ability to disengage from the situations that harm me.

I was hanging on to people and ideas that were not fruitful for me. I’m still processing why I put other people before my own development and health. Obviously, I had something to gain from remaining engaged. It could have been, in part, to avoid my own work and pain. Change is difficult and perhaps it is easier to detach and become engrossed in someone else’s struggle. Being a part of someone else’s healing might of made me feel useful, less unworthy, and visible. I would have felt like I mattered had I been able to help someone.

People were not ready and they were not asking for my help. Their fractured lives left little room for connection in the way I longed for and desired. Its too difficult remaining in a relationship that centers around chaos where I continually worry and fret over everyone’s safety. My voice has become hoarse from screaming for so long. I’m exhausted and I feel silly when I acknowledge that my pleas for lasting change have never really amounted to anything. I think of all the time and energy that I could have been pouring into my life and loving myself. Perhaps, the screaming was actually a plea to connect with and care for myself. I was angry and upset at others who I felt had abandoned me, but in reality, I was the worst offender. I had repeatedly left myself on a mission to help and “save” those who repeatedly declined my help. At least now, I am questioning my behavior honestly and courageously. I’ve been hurt so much that I’m willing to take a harder look at myself.

I am exhausted at the endless attempts to connect to the ones I love. I’ve begged and pleaded for way too long, losing my dignity, winding up devastated and depressed. No one came to embrace me and instead I only ended up completely isolated and alone. And yet, I was unwilling to remain silent. I was also not ready yet to embrace and accept “what is” and to let go of my desire and dream to connect. I would look around and see evidence of others in my life who appeared connected and happy in their families and lives, and I was unwilling to let go of what I felt “should be”. In my hurt and anger, I added fuel to the flames, making an already dismal situation, worse. I was never truly left, because I was never actually connected and together with the ones I loved. I had spent a lifetime trying to connect to people who were either unwilling or unable to join me.

I know that it’s time to leave the hopeless reality that has consumed much of my time and energy. I literally have no idea what I am doing or even what is next. I only know that accepting “what is” and “letting go” of ineffective ways of coping will more than likely open up windows in this musty and stuffy old house. Perhaps, light will flood into the windows and I’ll discover areas of myself that have been neglected and untouched all these years. Maybe the sun will flood in providing warmth and even joy. In time, I might even create a new and familiar space that is all mine that I will call “HOME”.

I hold doubt and hope in my heart at the same time. This space is unfamiliar, but feels somewhat safe. I’m just going to put one foot in front of the other as I learn to listen and trust my own voice. I’ll be grieving, letting go, and learning all at the same time. Most importantly, I hope the manacles that have bound me in the past to places of despair, release and fall heavily to the floor. I’m venturing into the unknown with new intention and resolve and my eyes are open, scanning the horizon.